Posts Tagged ‘garlic mustard’


(Picture above: Tern Decoys)

It has almost been 3 weeks since Bobby and I began working on Ship Island. Unfortunately we are still not seeing as many terns as we should, and we don’t have a good explanation as to why. As Bobby explained last Thursday the refuge came out and installed a sound system and decoys in an attempt to lure more terns to Ship Island. In the meantime the past week we spent a considerable amount of time implementing invasive plant control on Garlic Mustard (seen in the picture below).

Garlic Mustard.jpg

(Photo above: Garlic Mustard. Photo Cred: Maine Dept. of Agriculture Conservation and Forestry)

This work is very familiar to me since all last summer I worked as a invasive plant control intern out in southern CO for the San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex.  Garlic Mustard is a particularly nasty invasive since it is also allelopathic meaning it releases chemicals that can inhibit the growth of other plants surrounding it allowing it to grow out of control and take over huge areas of land that could otherwise been used by native plants that provide a service to the ecosystem. The method of control that we implemented with the refuges help last Tuesday was to first pull all flowering plants, and spraying  the area where the plants where pulled with extra strength vinegar which will hopefully kill any seeds that could be dormant in the soil. We also sprayed little roseate that would turn into flowering plants the following year. Bobby and I spent the next day scouring the island further to find as many of the plants that we could. We were pleased to find that the infestation at least this year was confined to only a few areas on the island instead of spread out. The work can be difficult at times trudging through fields of Cow Parsnip and stinging nettle both which can leave painful rashes on the skin, but trudge on we will.


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Daily bird walks are conducted at 7am, where we identify every bird we observe by sight or sound. So far, we have documented 37 bird species on Ship Island. Below are a few photos of the new species saw this week, including Common Yellowthroat, Wilson’s Warbler, and Black-throated Green Warbler.

The last few days we have been intensively pulling garlic mustard. Garlic mustard is an invasive weed that grows in what seems to be large clusters here on Ship Island. We have scoured the island, pulling all of the flowering plants and spraying the base as well as the rosettes with vinegar. Our efforts over the last two days have filled 7 large trash bags.


Olivia pulling garlic mustard

Today, we spent a few hours over on Bar Island to document a shell midden found two years ago. On the island we searched for any sign of mammalian predators, finding very few raccoon tracks and scat. While walking the beach we also found a Lion’s Mane jellyfish that had washed up in the tide.

We look forward to the nesting season and hope to find eggs within the next few days!

Your 2018 Ship Island Crew                                                                                                                  ~Olivia and Bailey

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Hey Everyone!

The first couple weeks here on Ship Island have been fantastic! We have had great luck with the weather and are actually just hitting our first patch of all-day fog. We found our first Common Tern nest on 5/29 and the rest of the colony is following suit. We have identified 63 nests so far and terns are still showing up! Common Terns are the only species of terns that we have here. We do however also have  Spotted Sandpipers, sparrow, warblers, and Mallards nesting here. Some of these later birds have hatched already!



They grow up so fast!



For some reason a snail joined these Song Sparrow eggs.

While doing blind work Mary and I get to watch what the terns bring in to feed their mates. It’s actually very exciting as you try to follow the birds with your binoculars and either identify the food or snap a picture before they gobble it down. As of late, the gulls and terns in the area have taken to eating Clam Worms. These worms might seem a little strange out of water but they have a beautiful iridescent green to purple coloring as they swirl around in the water to clean themselves of sand. Most of the worms are around ten inches long and quite hilarious to see our small terns carrying.


What we believe to be a herring.

The research that we do for birds here is very rewarding, however we do have other responsibilities to help take care of Ship Island. One of the most important things we do is remove invasive species. The primary one here is garlic mustard (Allaria petiolata). The island had recently been covered in garlic mustard but Maine Coastal has been working towards removing the invasive for the past eight years. We have been testing different control methods, cautious in what methods we use in order to not affect the other species on the island. Currently we spend most warm days hand pulling the adults (the plant is biennial) before they go to seed.


The nightmare when you weed around Cow Parsnip.

Till Next Time!

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Allow me to introduce you to the worst enemy of the Ship Island Crew: garlic mustard. Although this may sound like a tasty addition to your next sandwich, we can’t wait to see the last of it here on Ship.

A small stalk of garlic mustard showing its characteristic heart-shaped leaves

Garlic mustard, or Alliaria petiolata is a highly invasive plant species that has spread over several parts of the island and it is incredibly difficult to eliminate once it becomes established.  On its own, a stalk of garlic mustard may look harmless, but don’t be fooled: this stuff is a pain!

While the adult plant is easy enough to uproot, it is highly persistent in its other forms.  Garlic mustard is a biennial plant, which means it takes two years of growth before it flowers and produces seeds. The smaller first year plants can be difficult to find in all the other greenery of the island. Small single-leaf seedlings are even harder to spot.  On top of that, seeds can stay dormant for years before sprouting, so even if we were to pull up every stalk of garlic mustard, we would still see more sprout up next year.

So what are we doing about it? The Refuge has been working with Glen Mittelhauser , a private contractor, to determine effective measures for removing this invasive plant before it covers the island. To start with, we’ve been pulling up every flowering stalk we find. And there are A LOT of flowering stalks. See that picture below? That’s about half of what we’ve pulled off of our 11-acre island so far.

Next step is the application of one or more sprays to kill the seedlings and non-flowering stalks. Since we’re so close to breeding birds, we’ve been trying to avoid the use of strong chemical herbicides. After studying results from some test plots set up on the island, Glenn has us using vinegar and seawater in areas where we’ve pulled up the flowering stalks. Hopefully, if keep this up over the years, we’ll be able to deplete the seeds that have been stored up in the soil and rid the island of this unpleasant plant.

Garlic mustard has small flower with four white petals

So why is it so important to get rid of garlic mustard anyway? One of the most important parts of our job out here on these islands is to maintain a habitat that is conducive to healthy seabird colonies. Terns nest in or near vegetation, and the presence of invasive species such as garlic mustard may reduce the amount of suitable nesting habitat. Additionally, terns aren’t the only birds breeding on Ship Island: we’ve also got Savannah Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Common Yellowthroats, and Yellow Warbler. All these birds depend on a finding a healthy habitat on Ship Island so they can successful raise their young.

So wish us luck in fighting this mustardy menace!

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